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Penguins Baby Penguins Notebook: Daigle chooses to produce, not pout

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Upon being demoted to the AHL late last month, Alexandre Daigle found that it was hard work to maintain his customary smile.

"It wasn't an easy time for me. Very tough, actually."

But it wasn't nearly as hard as he has worked in his attempt to prove to the Penguins that they erred in sending him to Wilkes-Barre. He has been the Baby Penguins' most productive forward in his 10 games with them, producing three goals and 11 assists.

And those numbers don't begin to detail what he could have generated in that time. He has taken 46 shots, including 28 in the past four games. Yesterday, he was named AHL player of the week.

"From the beginning, I was getting my chances," he said. "Now, it's just that they're starting to go in."

His effort Friday in a 4-2 home victory against the Lowell Lock Monsters was his finest. The Baby Penguins trailed, 2-1, early in the second period, but Daigle recorded primary assists on goals by left wingers Konstantin Koltsov and Tomas Surovy to give his team the lead, then scored the final goal himself on a power play in the third.

In a typical situation, it should not raise an eyebrow that a No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, as Daigle was in 1993, should excel in the minor leagues at age 27. But his situation isn't now and never has been typical.

After a star-crossed NHL career, he quit hockey in 2000. He emerged in a tryout with the Penguins before this season and made the team, earning a guaranteed one-year contract of $700,000. His critics -- and they are numerous -- accused him of returning to pilfer from the Penguins because he was short on cash. And when he accepted his demotion after netting only four goals and three assists in 30 games for the parent club, those critics felt he would go to Wilkes-Barre simply to ride out his deal and pocket his money.

"That's not why I came back," Daigle said. "I came back to play hockey, and not just for one year and then to get out. I want to play for a long time, for many more years. I wasn't playing very much in Pittsburgh, so I saw this as an opportunity to play, to get my timing back. When I decided to come back last summer, my agent and I knew there was a chance I'd have to start out in the minors. It just happened the other way here."

Ice time has not been an issue in Wilkes-Barre. He is skating on the top line next to center Toby Petersen and left winger Matt Murley. He also is seeing regular duty on special teams, working the point on the power play for the first time since he was in Canadian junior hockey.

"I love it," he said. "It's great for me because there are a lot of great forwards here, a lot of speed. On my line, Murley is a rookie, but he's a good player. And Toby has played in the NHL and knows what he's doing out there. We're getting a lot of chances together every game."

Which isn't to suggest Daigle would turn down a recall to Pittsburgh if it came.

"I want to play in the NHL. That's why I'm still going. In life, you have two choices: You can pout or have fun. Hockey is fun for me."

Minor matters

The Baby Penguins briefly moved above .500 with the victory Friday but they fell back to 19-19-2-3 the next night with an embarrassing, 7-5 home loss to the Cleveland Barons, who entered that game with a 13-game losing streak. The Barons led, 5-0, after one period, and Coach Glenn Patrick pulled goaltender Robbie Tallas after Tallas allowed three goals on six shots.

Backup Mike Valley, who relieved and stopped 25 of 28 shots Saturday, picked up his first AHL victory since Jan. 10, 1999, with the Baby Penguins' 3-2 victory Wednesday at Hershey. He made 33 saves and was named No. 1 star. Valley, recalled from the Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League two weeks ago because of Sebastien Caron's promotion to Pittsburgh, had been 2-17-1 in his AHL career.

Surovy extended his points streak to four games, a span in which he has two goals and three assists. He also made an immediate impression on Daigle with his touch. "I'll tell you, Surovy is going to play in the NHL," Daigle said. "He's a pure goal-scorer."

Center Kris Beech had two goals and two assists in his first three games after returning from an appendectomy.

Right winger Colby Armstrong, the Penguins' first-round pick in the 2001 draft, has not scored a goal in 23 games. In his first season of professional hockey, he has four goals and eight assists in 39 games.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1938.

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